The start-up ecosystem in Brazil: Main characteristics and opportunities of cooperation for Finnish entities
- Brazil is the main start-up hub in the Latin American region, and the country has important advantages that foster the creation of innovative companies.
- The Brazilian start-up ecosystem has shown strong growth in recent years.
- The major Brazilian ecosystems play a significant role in Latin America and on the global stage, with São Paulo ranking among the top 20 start-up ecosystems worldwide.
- As a result of the ecosystem's growth, several success stories have been observed in the country.
- Among the main Brazilian success stories, fintechs prevail, followed by e-commerce. Other relevant segments include software development, logistics and real estate.
- The advantages of both the Brazilian and Finnish ecosystems create a wide range of collaboration opportunities between the two countries in this sector.
INTRODUCTION AND BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE BRAZILIAN START-UP ECOSYSTEM EVOLUTION
This report aims to provide information on the Brazilian start-up ecosystem, describing its main characteristics and the potential it represents for investments and business partnerships. According to Startup Blink, a start-up ecosystem research centre, a start-up is “any business that applies an innovative technology-enabled solution that has the potential to achieve scalability”.
In addition to the start-ups themselves, the main actors in the ecosystem include investment funds, angel investors, incubators, accelerators, innovation hubs, universities, specialised training centres and entrepreneur networks. A strong presence of these actors is essential for the formation of a healthy start-up ecosystem.
Brazil has a vibrant ecosystem. The Brazilian start-up ecosystem has shown strong growth in recent years, with a significant increase in the number of start-ups, support initiatives and capital available. As a result of the ecosystem's growth, several success stories have been observed in the country, and a significant number of companies have grown to become unicorns (privately held start-ups that reach a valuation of at least $1 billion) or publicly traded companies.
Although the Brazilian start-up ecosystem has developed considerably in recent years, it is still relatively young. In Brazil, a significant portion of start-ups was created in the early 2000s when the market for these companies was still new and offered ample experimentation possibilities.
Just before the 2000s, significant events occurred in the market. In 1999, Buscapé was created, a pioneering e-commerce company in Brazil that offers price comparison services. Also in 1999, the Argentine start-up Mercado Libre was founded and entered the Brazilian market. These events contributed significantly to the introduction of the online shopping culture in Brazil.
In 2005, the first Brazilian funds focused on venture capital and investments in technology began to operate. During this period, the fledgling start-up ecosystem in Brazil continued to advance relatively slowly. In 2009, an important milestone occurred in the country. In that year, Buscapé was sold to the South African conglomerate Naspers, one of the world's largest technology investors (at the time, Naspers acquired 91% of Buscapé's shares for $342 million). Buscapé was the first Brazilian start-up to achieve an exit (an exit occurs when a start-up is acquired by a larger company or when it launches an initial public offering and begins trading shares publicly). This successful case demonstrated Brazil's potential in creating high-growth start-ups.
In the 2010s, the Brazilian start-up ecosystem was fostered by an increase in internet penetration in the country (between 2010 and 2020, the rate of individuals using the internet in Brazil rose from 41% to 81%). In the second half of the decade, important regulatory measures were put in place in Brazil to facilitate access to funding.
In 2016, the statute of micro and small enterprises in Brazil was modified to include regulations for angel investors, individuals or legal entities that invest their own capital in high-growth potential companies, receiving in return a stake in the business they have invested in. In 2017, the Brazilian Securities and Exchange Commission (CVM) regulated crowdfunding, an investment modality through which a variety of investors, often of small scale, can invest certain amounts of money in a particular business or project through specialised electronic platforms.
In 2018, the Central Bank of Brazil published two resolutions (numbers 4,656 and 4,657) that had a significant impact on the credit market in the country. These resolutions began to regulate the activities of fintechs in lending and financing operations independently of bank involvement or intermediation. Fintech regulation promoted the creation of companies capable of offering financial products based on innovation and technology, as well as cheaper and less bureaucratic services to customers, resulting in a greater diversity of companies operating in the sector and increased competitiveness. Until 2018, only banks and financial institutions were authorised to operate in the credit market. From 2011, fintechs were allowed to act as intermediaries between banks and customers and provide ancillary services, such as credit analysis. However, it was only in 2018 that fintechs were allowed to operate independently of banks.
Also in 2018, another extremely important event for the Brazilian innovation ecosystem occurred: 99, a ridesharing company, was awarded the title of the first Brazilian unicorn. Shortly thereafter, companies like Nubank, a fintech, and iFood, a food delivery app, also achieved this status.
At this period, the Brazilian start-up ecosystem received growing interest from major investors. Between late 2018 and early 2019, Softbank, a large venture capital group, entered Brazil through a fund that allocated $5 billion for investments in Latin America. The involvement of seasoned founders combined with a larger pool of available capital heated up the market and spurred a new wave of Brazilian unicorns.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the digital transformation process was accelerated. Start-ups played an important role in this process, and in 2021 the volume of investments in these companies in Brazil reached a record high. In the same year, the Start-Up Legal Framework (Complementary Law No. 182) was approved, a law created to promote the expansion of research, development and innovation activities in the private sector, simplify rules applied to start-ups and provide greater security to investors.
The relevance of the Brazilian start-up ecosystem is expected to grow as Brazil is currently experiencing a strong wave of technology penetration and access, driven by needs arising from the Covid-19 pandemic. Among the activities that have experienced high growth in the recent period are distance education, e-commerce, telemedicine and digital banking services, within the context of an accelerated digital transformation movement.
MAIN CHARACTERISTICS OF BRAZILIAN START-UPS
Brazil is the main start-up hub in the Latin American region, and the country has important advantages that foster the creation of innovative companies. Firstly, the fact that Brazil is one of the largest economies in the world is an important characteristic that stimulates the creation of start-ups, as companies established in the country can have direct access to a massive market in which they can innovate, grow and reach a scale which allows them to become players with condition to initiate their internationalisation processes.
Also, in addition to being the largest country in Latin America in terms of economy and population, internet penetration in the country is high, with more than 80% of the population with access to the internet. Moreover, Brazilians are the group with the most entrepreneurial profile in Latin America, with more than 10% of the adult population owning a business. And start-up creation in Brazil is supported by a vibrant ecosystem, with the country leading the ranking of start-up ecosystems in Latin America. As a result of these favourable conditions, Brazil has the highest number of start-ups and unicorns in the region. The table below presents information that shows the strength of the Brazilian start-up ecosystem in the regional context.
Presently, Brazil hosts more than 13,000 start-ups. In the last 10 years, the number of start-ups operating in Brazil grew substantially, with a strong activity of start-up creation particularly between 2015 and 2020, when the number of start-ups more than doubled from fewer than 6,000 to more than 12,000
As regards the main sectors in which start-ups in Brazil operate, it is worth noting the relevance of sectors that cater to the country’s massive market, including education, finance, health and retail. Also, a significant proportion of start-ups operate in sectors that provide support to companies operating in Brazil, such as software development, human resources and marketing. In addition, it worth noting the relevance of start-ups that provide solutions to Brazil’s massive agribusiness sector.
Concerning the target market of start-ups in Brazil, most companies focus on corporate clients, with the business-to-business (B2B, when the transaction occurs between two businesses) and the business to business to consumer (B2B2C, when two companies partner to offer services to consumers) modalities accounting for more than 80% of the target market. And the software as a service is the main business model adopted by start-ups in Brazil, accounting for almost 40% of the total. In this model, applications are delivered over the internet commonly on a subscription basis.
A survey carried out by the Brazilian Association of Start-ups found that 39.6% of the sampled companies received some type of investment. Funding received by start-ups in their early stages are the most relevant types of investment received, with angel investment and seed capital being the two most important sources with 39% and 18% of the total number of investments received, respectively. Other relevant sources of capital include public support, acceleration programmes and corporate venture capital. Out of the investments received by start-ups, 8.9% came from abroad.
Investments in Brazilian start-ups have been growing substantially in recent years, particularly since 2018. Record-breaking values in terms of both volume and the number of transactions were registered in 2021, following the accelerated digitalisation process that took place as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic. Although a correction was observed in 2022, with investment values significantly smaller compared to 2021, it is worth noting that the long-term growth trajectory of investments in start-ups continues.
REGIONAL PROFILE OF START-UP ACTIVITY IN BRAZIL
Start-up activity is strongly concentrated in the Southeast and South regions of Brazil. The State of São Paulo alone accounts for more than one-third of all start-ups in the country. The states of Santa Catarina and Paraná, in the South, and of Minas Gerais, in the Southeast, also host very active ecosystems. The table and map below present information about the distribution of start-ups in Brazil by state. The six states with most start-ups in Brazil account for 76% of the number of these companies the country.
When it comes to cities, the major Brazilian ecosystems play a significant role in Latin America and on the global stage, with São Paulo ranking among the top 20 start-up ecosystems worldwide. The following table presents information on the best-ranked start-up ecosystems in Brazil.
MAIN SUCCESS CASES
Thanks to Brazil's favourable environment for nurturing start-ups, numerous examples of innovative companies created in Brazil have reached the status of unicorns or become publicly listed. Additionally, a substantial number of Brazilian start-ups have expanded their operations internationally. According to a survey conducted by the Brazilian Association of Start-ups, 11.8% of Brazilian start-ups engage in international business.
Currently, Brazil is the 10th country with most unicorns in the world. Moreover, a significant number of Brazilian start-ups floated their shares in stock exchanges in Brazil and in the United States. Among the main Brazilian success stories, fintechs prevail, followed by e-commerce. Other relevant segments include software development, logistics and real estate. The next two tables show information on Brazilian unicorns and start-ups that launched initial public offerings.
In addition to the Brazilian companies that went public, it is also worth mentioning another relevant case of exit in Brazil. In 2018, the Chinese ride-sharing company Didi Chuxing acquired for US$ 600 million full control of 99, a company founded in 2012 which is the main rival to Uber in Brazil. Previously, Didi owned around 30 percent of 99 and the US$ 600 million were paid to acquire the shares it did not own.
CONCLUSION AND SUMMARY OF OPPORTUNITIES
Brazil has a highly favourable environment for the creation of successful start-ups. The size of its economy and the existence of a well-developed ecosystem in Brazil are fundamental factors in promoting the emergence of innovative companies capable of following high-growth trajectories. Among Brazil's advantages, it is also worth highlighting the entrepreneurial spirit of many Brazilians. The dynamism of the Brazilian ecosystem and start-ups demonstrates the country's strength in business sectors that play a significant role in the future of the global economy.
The advantages of both the Brazilian and Finnish ecosystems create a wide range of collaboration opportunities between the two countries in this sector, benefiting both Brazilian entities interested in Finland and Finnish entities interested in Brazil. Examples of possible bilateral collaborations include investments in start-ups by funds and corporations, the promotion of investments by start-ups interested in internationalising their activities, the promotion of cooperation between start-ups from both countries (in research and development, for instance), the development of initiatives focused on talent exchange, the organisation of immersion programs and the participation in events aimed at start-ups.
In all these cases, there is enormous potential for the development of bilateral cooperation between Brazil and Finland and the creation of alliances that can contribute to stimulating business activity and the generation of innovation in both countries.
Text: Rafael Murgi, Coordinator, Commercial Affairs, Consulate of Finland, São Paulo
The full version of the report, including the graphs, is available at finlandabroad: The start-up ecosystem in Brazil.
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